With the World Cup right around the corner, what better way to get ready for futbol than some fun-filled soccer action up close. While the best in the world get ready to kick things off a little over two months from now in Brazil, some of the finest in the North American Soccer League will face off against each other Saturday, April 12, when the Tampa Bay Rowdies battle FC Edmonton at Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg.
To get you ready for the 2014 season opener, here are some keynote things to know:
The nuts and bolts: FC Edmonton at Tampa Bay Rowdies, Saturday, April 12, 7:30 p.m., Al Lang Stadium, downtown St. Petersburg; tickets start at $18, with USF St. Petersburg student discounts of $10, can be purchased at Rowdies Front Office at 877-ROWDIES (769-3437) or rowdiessoccer.com.
Out with the old, in with the new: After winning the 2012 NASL Championship, the Rowdies took a step back in 2013 by not even making it to the title match. Rowdies general manager Perry Van Der Beck went to work in trying to assemble a roster to bring another Soccer Bowl back to St. Petersburg. Several former Major League Soccer signees highlight a group filled with talent. Here is a list of the new players and some of the former Rowdies who have moved on from the club —
— Matt Pickens )MLS Keeper)
— Ryan Thompson
— Cody Mizell
— JP Rodrigues (Came back after one year gone)
— Blake Wagner
— Willie Hunt
— Darel Russell (From MLS, has played for Norwich and Stoke City in England as well)
— Christophe Lallet (From Sweden)
— Anthony Wallace (From MLS)
— Brian Shriver (2013 Golden Boot)
— Casey Townsend (From DC United)
Notable Rowdies players playing for other teams or who have retired:
— Luke Mulholland to Real Salt Lake (MLS)
— Raphael Cox to Harrisburg City Islanders
— Daniel Scott to Carolina RailHawks
— Andres Arango has retired
— Stuart Campbell, assistant coach for the Rowdies
Get ready to rock and enjoy: Rowdies games are always an adventure with the Ralph's Mob making the experience one for the ages. On Saturday, two different musical acts will make the visit to Al Lang Stadium even more raucous. First, Grammy Award-winning sensation Jon Secada will sing the national anthem to start the night. After the game, Scotland's bagpiping band The Red Hot Chili Pipers will cap the evening with a post-game concert.
A field of newly redesigned configurations: While it isn't much of a secret how the players would like a new pitch to play on, the organization will try to give fans a top notch opportunity to enjoy the contest. Under the new leadership of principal owner Bill Edwards, the Rowdies will introduce midfield seating at two price points. The premium Midfielder's Club will feature 212 seats that wrap around newly integrated players' benches and will include several perks. Approximately 1,000 other Midfield Reserved seats round out the midfield seating, which will be 10 feet away from the field.
Can't make it to the stadium? The Rowdies announced Thursday a partnership with WTTA-Ch. 38 to televise all 13 home matches throughout the 2014 campaign. In addition, Great 38 and the Rowdies will produce the "Great 38 Rowdies Kick Off" pregame show featuring Rowdies news and interviews with the players and coaches. Live broadcasts will feature Jenn Holloway as sideline reporter, along with play-by-play broadcaster Jim Henderson and color commentator Trevor DeGroot. The pregame show will be hosted by Henderson and DeGroot.
Chase for The Championship: The 2014 NASL season will feature yet another change to the playoff format as four clubs qualify to play in 'The Championship' that will decide which of the league's clubs lifts the NASL Soccer Bowl trophy. As a component of long term competition planning, the NASL Spring Season and Fall Season champions will be joined in the semi finals of The Championship by the two clubs with the next best overall records from both seasons combined. The semi final winners will compete in The Championship final.